After years of criticism for its outright favouritism towards white males, Neil Portnow was ousted and Deborah Dugan resumed her office as the Chief Executive of the Recording Academy in August, meeting a myriad of problems, so was tasked with getting it back on track. The Academy’s record on diversity has been drab. And when questions were raised pertaining to the Grammys’ blinding gender imbalance, Portnow said that women needed to “step up.”
The new era – Dugan – was set to make its public debut at the Grammys on Sunday (today) with new faces like Lil Nas X, Billie Eilish and others debuting on the nominees’ list. But after just five months on the job, Dugan was abruptly placed on leave on January 16, creating an atmosphere of chaos on the eve of the 62nd annual ceremony.
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Meanwhile, in just a few months on the job, Dugan highlighted too many problems. From the voting irregularities to conflict of interest among board members to financial mismanagement to “exorbitant” legal fees paid to a few law firms with close ties to the academy, to a scheduled board vote to approve a sizable bonus for Portnow, despite the fact that he had been accused of rape by a musician, and the allegation had not been disclosed to all board members. Behind the scenes of what is described as “music’s biggest night,” Dugan found too many wrongs. In a 44-page complaint, Dugan outlined, in extensive detail, her first months as president and chief executive, which left her convinced that the 62-year-old organisation needed significant changes.
But what happened?
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The Recording Academy apparently didn’t want any changes. Dugan had filed a memo last month detailing her concerns that “something was seriously amiss at the Academy.” After her removal, she doubled down in a discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The question then remains: Can the Grammys ever be trusted?
Now the whole of Nigeria is in deep anticipation that Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, popularly known as Burna Boy, will come home with a Grammy. But, it is not a question of whether he deserves it. It is a question of whether the Academy deems it fit to give the award to whoever really deserves it – especially as we have ‘nominees of no-colour’ on the list.
If the Grammys don’t ingest the much-desired change, its claim to be the standard-bearer music awards platform will become laughable. Progressive musicians will seek out new platforms that are more in touch, leaving the Grammys to continue in its failed meritocracy, eroding their authority.
Dugan must have hoped that changes and criticisms will reduce drastically, but what’s the case?
Also, I am rooting for Burna Boy to win. However, there are others on the list.